Quebec premier visits town of deadly seniors' home fire
L'ISLE-VERTE, Que.- Premier Pauline Marois arrived here Sunday to attend a mass for the victims of a deadly fire at a seniors' residence as strong winds and blizzard-like conditions briefly halted recovery efforts earlier in the day.
By the midday, Quebec police said that the efforts had gradually resumed and heavy equipment brought in to melt the ice that continues to hamper the recovery effort. In some places, the ice that covers the ruins of the residence is 60 cm thick.
Police spokesman Guy Lapointe said at a Sunday afternoon news conference that the equipment is "bringing results and progress." He added that the investigation is ongoing, and that police have already met with more than 100 witnesses. So far, 10 people are confirmed dead and another 22 are still unaccounted for.
Environment Canada forecasted wind gusts of up to 80 km/h and a wind chill nearing -30 C on Sunday for Isle-Verte, a town of 1,500 people 230 km northeast of Quebec City, making the search for the victims extremely difficult.
Marois arrived in L'Isle-Verte late Sunday morning and attended a private memorial mass at the local church on in the afternoon. A public service will be held Feb. 1.
Roch Bernier, co-owner of the residence, greeted the congregation somberly and was given a standing ovation.
"I come to you with a heart full of emotion and at the same time enormous suffering," he told mourners, saying he considered the residents to be part of his family.
Bernier also called on people not to look for blame.
"Let us find out what we can to do to help each other," he said before returning to his seat, barely able to choke back tears.
At a morning press conference, Marois offered her condolences to the families of those affected by the blaze.
"We are on your side," she said. "They have my sympathy and my solidarity."
Marois said that the fire at the residence was "unacceptable" and that she would wait for a report before demanding sprinklers be placed in all seniors' residences.
Marois said that if sprinklers are recommended "we will do it," but that it will not be done solely in reaction to this tragedy.
"These are events we very much don't want to happen, and so we have to do everything possible to make sure they don't happen again," she said.
Three victims of the tragedy have been identified as Juliette Saindon, 95, Marie Laureat Dube, 82, and Louis-Philippe Roy, 89.
Despite reports alleging that a cigarette ignited the blaze, police say they still do not know the cause and it could take months to determine.
- With files from Dave Kaufman/Reuters